Epson Home Cinema 8500UB and Pro Cinema 9500UB Projector Review

Look to the Competitor’s section for how I position the Home Cinema 8500UB against the Panasonic PT-AE4000, BenQ W6000, Optoma HD8200, Sharp XV-Z15000, and Sony VPL-HW15. I’ll also discuss how the Epson stacks up against some higher priced competition like the JVC’s, the Sony VPL-VW85, and more. For how the Epson stacks up with what might be considered its chief rival, the Panasonic PT-AE4000, look in the competitor’s section of the Panasonic review when it publishes. As of the publication date of this review, we haven’t yet received our Panasonic. Time to get this this projector review moving along. (Image above from the new Star Trek movie trailer.)

Home Cinema 8500UB Projector Highlights

  • Average brightness in “best mode” and extremely bright – at its brightest
  • Best black level performance of any sub-$4000 projector to date
  • Image has a lot of “pop and wow” – dynamic looking
  • New Super-resolution feature adds a “crispness” to the image
  • Excellent projector for sports and general TV, HDTV viewing
  • Great black levels, good skin tones, for impressive movie watching
  • Skin tones improved over older Epsons and very good
  • Excellent placement flexibility (virtually unmatched)
  • First under $5000 projector to be THX certified, THX calibrated mode
  • Only 9500UB supports anamorphic lens, 8500UB does not
  • Excellent warranty
  • A worthy replacement for last year’s Epson. Plenty of performance for the price

Epson Home Cinema 8500UB Creative Frame Interpolation

New and improved, it is visibly better than the firmware upgrade released for the 6500UB. Artifacts are less frequent. In all fairness so far, I have stuck to the low setting for all of my viewing. I’ve watch a few minutes of sports on high, but found myself too distracted on commercials etc., and didn’t really study the higher settings performance, nor the middle one.

I never had reason to turn off CFI during any of probably 15 hours of sports viewing. When I did turn it off, I realized I liked it on better, there is simply less blurring.

With movies, interestingly, the CFI on low was very good. Artifacts were rare, and the “live digital video” or “soap opera” look was barely apparent at worst. A purist won’t use the CFI, but I do think that more folks will decide they like it, at least occasionally.

Compared to not using CFI, typical pans in scenes were much smoother with CFI set to low!

In fact I see that as the biggest single benefit to using CFI. Panning in movies is something that is certainly used a lot, and the reduction in blurring on those pans is pretty dramatic. We are, of course used to the motion blur, we’ve been watching it in the theaters, forever. It doesn’t take much, though, to appreciate its absence. It really comes down to (in the case of the new Epson CFI), if you are willing to accept a minimal amount of that live digital video look, in exchange for the reduction in blurring.

Perhaps the most notable flaw with these Epson projectors occurs, when 24fps content (typical film based movie) is broadcast over HDTV. The Epsons still have a harder time with that. I do believe there are now less artifacts, but, even with the Low CFI setting, the movies tend to have much more “live digital video” look than when handling the same movie coming across at 24fps on a Blu-ray disc. Epson has been the only projector company so far, I believe, that actually strips the signal from 60fps back to 24fps (removing 3:2 pulldown) with a movie over HDTV. It then applies its normal 24fps CFI. It just doesn’t look as good. However, in the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty minor.

I did notice that when using 4:4, I was encountering some jerky motion. Definitely unacceptable, however, since this was not a problem on the older Epson UB’s I’ll chalk this problem up to not yet finalized software. I mentioned the problem to Epson on my conference call. I do not expect it to show up in production projectors when they hit next month, however, I’ve requested Epson send me one of the early production units to confirm, that, and also remeasure brightness. Back to CFI.

One interesting thing about the operation of the new CFI, is that it apparently knows when to quit. According to Epson documents, there are times when it will switch from creative, to 4:4 when viewing 24fps content. I presume this happens when there are situations it can’t handle, such as very complex motion. I’m thinking about all the calculations that have to be done in terms of CFI on a scene with one of the Transformers – transforming. Or, in Bourne Supremacy, where the camera is always in motion.

Home Cinema 8500UB Super-Resolution

This may be the only uniquely new feature to the Epson UB projectors this year. Essentially it seems to be a dynamic – or, rather, a smart edge sharpening system using the color channels. I’ve been working with it, and of the three settings (1,2,3), I find very little detectable difference between Off and 1, on most content. Setting Super-resolution to 2, however, definitely yields a sharper seeming image. Not night and day, but, for example, it made the Epson look, on several scenes, very close to the BenQ W6000, in terms of the perceived clarity. In other words it made the Epson seem at least as close to the BenQ in sharpness than the Epson appears with Super-Resolution turned off. This is one of those dynamic features, and for this type of improvement, there are always some price to pay. I can see a slight rebalancing of the color brightness for example, in parts of a small face I was viewing with Super-res on, then off. In a perfect world, the image gets sharper, nothing else changes. Sorry – this isn’t a perfect world, there are always trade-offs. Question is, by how much do the advantages overshadow any weaknesses. This is a topic I’ll continue with in a blog, as I log more and more hours, and play more with this feature.

Click to enlarge .  so close

That said, I like the feature. I’ve used it for sports (a definite plus) and to a lesser extent with HDTV movies. So far, so good, however. As I’ve pointed out before, I find 1080p projectors generally fit into two categories – average sharpness (for 1080p) and a bit sharper still. With this feature engaged on #2, this probably moves the Epson, into the “sharper still” category. Still this is a difference you are most likely to appreciate more when watching digital content, then films.

Click Image to Enlarge

4000 Hour Lamp

Epson is using the same lamp this year, as in last year’s projector. What makes it noteworthy is that it claims 4000 hours operation at full power (or low power, for that matter). Few home theater projectors have lamps claiming more than 2000 hours at full power, though 3000 hours is typical for low power mode. A couple of Mitsubishi home projectors claim 3000 hours at full power, and 5000 in low power, but since most home theater people will run in full power, most of the time, Epson’s lamp is probably the lowest in terms of cost of operation. This is a key point, when comparing projector value. That Epson also has only a $299 MSRP, when most lamps are $395-$400, makes for further savings. If you are a moderately heavy user (anyone into sports, and almost anyone that watches TV – HDTV as well as movies), the savings can be $400 – $800 over 3-4 years, compared to a projector with a typical lamp life.

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